Latin Clue Game

In tutoring beginning Latin through Classical Conversations, Challenge A, I’m always looking for games to help the students review. And when I got to the second semester, I realized I need a completely different kind of game. Some of my students had fallen behind in the vocab or the parents had decided the goal in Latin had changed for their family. In class, I had students at wildly different places. I already employ of games that are not competitive–in that they rely on a lot of chance to win–to help level the playing field between students who’ve memorized everything and those who struggle. (Because the purpose of my class is not to make a student feel shamed and unable to play if their parents have decided they’re not learning all the vocab or they are doing it at a different pace. The point of this class is for us to all be able to encourage each other, to keep learning, not just reward the top performers.)

But what do you do when you realize you have students who really cannot even have an answer, and even when having students play in partnerships, it’s still obvious that some students have nothing to offer their partnership when it comes to memory work?

I was playing the game Clue with my kids one winter night, and it popped into my head that this game was perfect for my class! I made a quick list of subject nouns, another of objects, another of locations, and one of action verbs,  and thought how we could play Latin Clue without the board and the dice. All we needed was the list of words and students making guesses until they, by process of elimination, guess “who done it!”

Image result for photo clue game

As we’ve played it in class three weeks now, I love it even more! The beauty is that it is useful and encouraging to every student. They LOVE it, they PICK it EVERY week now! Even a student who doesn’t know a lick of new vocab can still play the Clue game because it requires only choosing words already given. Now when students eliminate a vocab word from the game, I ask the whole class what it means–so we get to review the words’ meanings in each turn, but that can be answered by anyone and doesn’t affect ability to participate. Lastly, I love that students are so alert during this game and paying attention to everyone else’s turn and what words they pick–because they HAVE to!

As you will see, it’s different from Clue in that every crime is not a murder. We can use most of our verbs, and it’s sometimes very funny to students how something can be a crime–for instance, a soldier can be accused of using influence and praising in the river. What story could explain that as a crime? But we go with it! Our purpose is to review as much vocab as possible.



Purpose: to review Latin vocab and grammar; multiple levels of play available and can be run simultaneously in the same class


Object of game: to correctly guess the crime, the perpetrator, the object used, and the location.


How to make the game: You could use the words in the game sheet I’ve pasted below or choose your own words. Make-up or print game sheet for students and make a flash-card sized card for each word on the list.

To start the game: 1) Pass out to each student (or pair of students if you have a group larger than say 10) a copy of the game sheet.

2) Take the vocab cards and choose one from each category to hold (That’s the info student are going to try to guess.)

3) Take all remaining cards, shuffle, and distribute to students evenly.

4) Explain the goal by referring to the sentence (either printed on the students’ sheets or written on the board):

___________ uses ___________ and  __________  in __________.

(subject noun)             (object-DO)                      (verb)             (location)


Student turns: 1) students will look at their cards and cross off, on their game sheet, any word they find on their cards.

2) At each turn, tell the class one word from each category (one person, one object, one verb, one location, etc.) NOTcrossed off on their list.

3) Any classmates who have one of those words just guessed should raise their hands. To make the game go slowly, you call on only one. When a student says he/she has one vocab word on their cards, everyone in the class should cross it out on their sheet; this word cannot be the real crime because the answers are not in the deck that was distributed to the students! To make the game go faster, at each turn, you could call on students to eliminate 2 or even three words per turn.

4) To make this a good review, ask if anyone knows the English translation each time you eliminate a word.

The end: when someone guesses a word for each category and no one in the class can refute them. You can chekc the cards you held bakc to verify.

To end before that (when you run out of class time for this), ask each student/pair to make a final guess about the person accused. Hear all guesses, then reveal the answer from what you held back. Award a point to each student who guessed correctly. Do the same process for each of the other categories. The winner is the person/pair with the most points. (See, the winner of this game becomes so through good guessing or exercise of logic skills–NOT based on how mcuh they’ve memorized. And sometimes, we just need that in our classes.)

Ideas for an even easier version: You can make cards and players’ sheets with only 2 categories—say, in first semester, you could have only verbs and objects. (You could pick one verb to be standard, not something that needs to be guessed.) You could add more categories over time as students learn more.

Ideas for harder versions:

1)     For the entire class: add more categories. I plan to add adjectives that could describe a person. Another challenge to add: require that for the end round of guessing, students may guess only words they can translate. Unless your class is up to it though, this may not be the best tack. You could also ask each student to translate their final guesses, but if they’re not sure, ask anyone in the class.

2)     For only some of your students, who are ready for the challenge: You place all words in alphabetical order on the game sheets instead of having them split into lists of people, objects, verbs, locations, etc. A student ready for it can test his/her understanding of grammar by having to find all the nominative nouns (people) versus accusative nouns (objects), verbs and ablative nouns (locations.) I plan to do this for my practicum class on Latin this summer. I will have 9 year olds as well as students who’ve completed Challenge A, so I will give the younger students sheets with all categories divided out, so they need only choose one per group to play—but students who need the challenge will get the sheet with the parts of speech all mingled together.



What do you notice that all the subject nouns (people) have in common? (They’re all nominative, they’re all singular.)

What do all objects have in common? (They’re all in the accusative form , they’re all also nouns.)

What do you notice about all the verbs? (They’re all in third person singular.)

What is the same about all locations? (They’re all in the ablative case.)

The above questions get at reviewing the grammar and their ability to observe the endings

If you make students the more advanced game sheets , they will have to use such knowledge of the endings and the grammar to even choose words to fit each category for their guesses.



  1. The first time you play will be slow and tedious. But it gets much faster as students get the hang of it. It’s so worth one slow first-time play for a great game the rest of the year. I typically play a review game for 15-20 minutes.  In Challenge A, the vocab is the highest priority.
  2. As for how many words/cards you need: consider the size of your class. For the word lists posted below, I used that for my class of 5, and after I saved four cards for the answer, each student then had 9 cards in their personal deck.

Practicum Latin Camp IDEAS: I love letting the kids get dramatic, so when we play at practicum, I will probably let volunteers dress up as the subject nouns on our list. I’ll bring in simple pieces of costumes to designate a soldier, a centurion, a senator, Caesar, a father, etc. The challenge I’m thinking through is how to let girls participate, since mother is the only  I’m using that is obviously a female, at least in the ancient Roman sense. (I may have to bend out of being strictly historically accurate…)


Sample of my game sheets below–except I cannot show you accurately how I made mine in Word with two columns. (This blog format will not let me do that…)

Sem  2,wk 6
PEOPLE (subject noun)
(direct) OBJECTS


LOCATIONS (object of preposition)

I hope this works in your classroom.

Other blog posts:

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees


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Jim Davis Art Lesson

I used this lesson below for my Masters class (ages 10-13) at my local Classical Conversations campus three years ago. For week 18, learning from the masters, the curriculum veers into the contemporary era and focuses on cartooning (much to the joy of this age of students)!

I’ve seen some suggestions and plans for having students make an original comic strip. I’ve tried. More than once. I’ve come to the conclusion that the concept of making a comic, which most often requires some teaching on what makes humor and what makes it come across well on a page, is way more than we have time to cover in this one lesson. Without targeted instruction on those topics, the results I got from students were stick figures or slightly better and plot lines that went nowhere or that were not conveyed well. And I can’t blame the students–it’s a complex task many adults could not master in the time we have for this lesson!

My lesson focused on the process to make one cartoon character.

Step #1: I brought in some Jim Davis cartoons–because, let’s face it, most students hadn’t ever seen one! The Garfield movie of recent times helps, but the actual comics are not something in students’ cultural repertoire. As we passed around some of the comics, I shared a little about Davis’ life and career as described in Discovering Great Artists.

Step #2: I set up a stuffed bunny on a tall chair in the front of the room and let everyone look at him. Then I drew one cartoon drawing of him on the white board, sticking with the proportions of the real subject. Then I drew another version, this time exaggerating one feature or another. As kids laughed, I drew a few more and asked them the differences. We talked about exaggerating parts and comparing what the effect was. We talked about what features, if exaggerated made people laugh, generally: ears, noses. We talekd about what features are exaggerated in cartoons for beautiful/handsome people: eyes. We talked about different shapes of features that gave the character different personalities/ages/etc.

Step #3: I gave students paper for an exercise of a few minutes: draw multiple versions of the bunny, making each one differently, exaggerating different features.

Step #4: Next, I asked students to think of one animal or person they’d like to make into a cartoon character (real or imagined.) I gave them new paper for this task. I asked them to try a few different versions, with different features exaggerated and see which one they liked best.

Step #5: When a student had an image they liked, I gave our black markers for tracing, giving the cartoons the bold ink look.

Jim Davis cartoon lesson 003 (2)

I drew three cartoon characters based on my children–at home, and intended to show my class as an example of what I was asking of them. Bu I forgot! i never showed them the example I created just for this purpose! If I had, I’d have talked about how heads are commonly drawn larger for kid cartoons–one of the cues that they are kids. A general point about cartoons is that perspective is kinda thrown out the window; cartoonists mess with that all the time.

Step #6: This step, my class never got to in class. But I encouraged them to take it home and color it, and show us the following week. and if I’d remembered, I’d have shown the class my colored version, which my eldest son colored for me!

Jim Davis cartoon lesson 004

Well, that’s it, wrapping up the Great Artists section of the curriculum for the year. This seemed, to me, the simplest lesson of them all. Perhaps because we used just pencils, markers and colored pencils and didn’t have any paint to mess with!

Any tips and tricks to share, those of you who try this?

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Lichtenstein, Pop Art Lesson

Andrew Wyeth lesson

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

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Lichtenstein, Pop Art Lesson

Pop art. For this lesson on Lichtenstein and his 1960s comics’-inspired art, I thought a smaller-scale project would work better than what the Discovering Great Artists book suggests (considering time and space). I did this lesson with my Masters class in Classical Conversations, kids aged 9-13, but I’d also do it with Journeymen (8-9). The fine motor skills needed for this might make it a bit much for students in the younger classes.

Project: Dot-filled faces


hole punchers

strips of heavy paper or cardstock, at least a few inches wide.

a black marker for each student

large-tip colored markers

drawing paper (or computer paper)


Step 1. I introduced my class to the artist Roy Lichtenstein by saying nothing at first, and letting only my display of some of his works speak. I showed the most commonly-found type–the faces, as well as some with the bubble words. I asked students to observe and tell me what they noticed about Lichtenstein’s work. (This is such a departure from all the other artists, it’s fun to start this way! They’re usually quick to describe differences)

From their view across the room, your students might say only that they are comics. After my students observed them on the wall, I then walked the prints to them, so they can see the individuals dots making up each color.

Image result for lichtenstein pop art

Roy Lichtenstein. Found at:

Image result for lichtenstein pop art

Roy Lichtenstein. Found at:

Image result for lichtenstein pop art

Roy Lichtenstein. Found at:

Step 2. After the students shared observations, I shared a bit about Lichtenstein: his inspiration by comic strips and his goal to try to not only duplicate the look of newspaper printing of these comics, but to do so on the scale of billboards(!), precisely duplicating the dots.

Step 3. I gave each student a strip of paper. (Here I will depart from what I actually did three years ago. Then, I had strips of paper merely the length and width of a marker. I had punched holes into them along the edge. But I found they were too small and flimsy in practice.) I recommend strips at least three inches wide just so the students can hold and manage them better. Now, have them (or you, at home, if you prefer) punch holes alone one long edge, explaining that this is like a stencil: each hole they punch out is a space for them to color a dot on something. You could keep it simple and have all dots spaced a centimeter apart along the strip of paper. Or, with a really advanced class, you could have the holes on one end really close together, but holes on the other end of that same side of the strip placed further apart, so older students can have the option of two types of spacing for their project.

Step 4. I next showed my students the project sample below, pointing out that they next need to draw a cartoon face. Have students sketch a simple, cartoon face in pencil, then trace it with a black marker. Below you can see the evidence of this step in my finished project. (I also gave the option for students to draw a large bubble word instead of a face.)


Step 5: After the black line drawing is done, I demonstrated taking the strip of paper with holes punched in it and using it like a stencil. I instructed students to pick one section for the face that would all be the same color: the face, a lock of hair, a collar, etc. I laid the paper on one section of my drawn cartoon face and colored in the dots with a marker. Then, I moved my strip of paper to color in the next line of dots, explaining that students would be choosing the distance between lines of dots–but to have it look uniform, try to keep the distance the same each time they move across a section of the picture.

Note: let them know, the closer the dots are, the more the color will appear to be solid at a distance away from the viewer.

Step 6: Keep coloring dots!

Step 7: When students are done, or at the end of class, hold the pictures far away so students can the illusion achieved!

REFLECTION: I’d have made all my dot stencils closer together instead of using the wider-apart ones I used for the skin color.

End note: Ha ha! I accidentally put green dots in the whites of the eye! My blooper was a good reminder to students to pay attention to where they are coloring in dots!


Other Posts:

Andrew Wyeth lesson

Looking for Readers for My Novel

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

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Looking for Readers for My Novel

Anyone love to read? Love to read contemporary/literary fiction about family secrets, marriage and forgiveness? Well, if you said yes so far, read on.

I’m at the end of my process for writing my first complete novel. I’ve had two professional edits so far and have done multiple myself in order to cut the length of my book in half. (Because LONG is what happens when you work on a story for years, on and off, between having babies and homeschooling…)

I’ve had friends and other writers read multiple versions over recent years, but now that I have a newer, shorter version, I need fresh eyes to read it and let me know if it works–eyes that don’t remember parts of the earlier story that got cut!

If you’re still curious, here’s my back-of-the-book blurb:

Still House

When an environmental disaster gives her the excuse, Maizy Perez, a struggling young mother, packs her things to leave her second husband in an attempt to escape the house and the baby boy whose very existences accuse her of betraying her first husband. Twenty-nine years later, her grown son Asher Marin struggles in his marriage when he and his wife buy their first home, an act that threatens to bare his infidelity. As the house forces more secrets into the light than any in the family bargained for, each is challenged to find out who they really are in the great need of forgiveness.

I should also mention, the story jumps between the two generations: the young mother’s world and the grown son’s world. And think Oprah’s book club kind of books for the kind of character-driven drama I think is in this story.

If that sounds interesting, and you’d like to read it this chilly winter, let me know in the comments! I am looking for people who can commit to reading it within a month for fun, as a word document or PDF file. (I hate putting a time limit on it, but this is what I need right now. Also I have one caveat–I want people to read it only if it is enjoyable. If for any reason it stops being enjoyable, stop reading, no questions asked! Some of my best friends simply do not like this genre, and I get that! (If you do stop reading and can tell me why, though, that would be like gold to me as I try to make this the best story that I can. )

What do I ask after you read? If you were local, I’d take you out for coffee after you read the book and just chat with you–because you would be an expert in what I can never know myself: how a reader processes my story and feels about it. I’d ask you how you felt about each main character. I’d ask you if there was anything that really grabbed you, as well as anything that was confusing, lost your interest or just didn’t quite seem believable. (I’ve done this many times before, so I’m really okay with a reader telling me scenes that didn’t make sense, a character they didn’t like, or a plot feature that didn’t ring true, etc. ) I simply listen to the feedback and am so appreciative of anyone giving of TIME to give my story a chance! (And if you’re not local, I can’t take you out for coffee, but we’d still chat about your feelings/impressions of the book when you were done, pretty informally. We’d do it the way that is easiest for you: email? Facebook chat? You let me know!

Multiple amazing and wonderful people have given me this amazing gift already, and each time, I am truly awed and humbled by anyone willing to give of their time to read and give feedback!

Thank you for considering, if you read this far!





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Andrew Wyeth lesson

Muted grays and browns, little color. When you say “Andrew Wyeth,” to me, this is what comes to mind.  And this image:

Andrew Wyeth. Master Bedroom.

Most of his paintings conjure cold for me. The crisp chill of an outside winter’s day–or an inside chill, as in the above.  So while I’d not choose most of his paintings to hang in my home to bring some warmth, he is a master at what he does: capturing stark beauty of nature, of barrenness, of sparse prairies and lonely houses and barns. Of winter. Of chill. But even the brisk energy of the outdoors somehow comes across.

But what about him would I like to pass on to my students? Discovering Great Artists has a great project, and this is my take on it:

The Snow Project

I created this for my Masters class, students ages 10-13, in our Classical Conversations community, but this could be done with journeymen or even apprentices. The goal is to use watercolor to create a winter outdoor scene using dried glue–an easy method to create the illusion of snowflakes.


watercolor paper



newspaper to cover table

paper towels for wiping brushes

school glue (such as Elmer’s)


Step 1: I highly suggest having students do this step earlier in your morning, maybe even an hour before your art class time, so it will be dry in time for Fine Arts class.

Before I even explained anything else, I gave my students the watercolor paper and the glue, with instructions to make shallow dots of glue to mimic snow in an outdoor scene. I say shallow because the fuller/deeper the dots are, the longer they take to dry–and they will dry often like a globe top or a fallen layer cake. The goal is a flat dried circle of glue.

Step 2: Okay, now you’re starting class officially, by introducing Andrew Wyeth. I showed my students some of the artwork above and below and asked their observations. Piggy-backing off their responses, I shared some bio info from the book, noting particularly that he is a realist painter and a regionalist, specializing in the surroundings of his own region of the US.

Andrew Wyeth, Outpost.

Step 3: I explained that we would make an outdoor winter scene, and drew their attention to the tree. It’s good to ask, “Why is one side of the tree lighter in color?” Getting them to observe the effect of light is a key observational skill in drawing. Though tutoring for CC does not ask this of you, I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to teach a little about light and shadow.

Andrew Wyeth. The Ax.

Step 4: I gave students their papers with the dried glue dots and tasked them with imagining a winter scene they’d like to paint. (The blobs of dried glue on their paper already gave them falling snowflakes.) I chose to make mine a scene of the snow just beginning, so my landscape (below) showed autumn with some color in it still.

wyeth painting 001

Step 5: (optional) Have students lightly sketch an outdoor scene on their watercolor paper.

Step 6. Painting the background. I shared with students that it’s far easier to start with the background first–rather than paint a detailed tree and then have to try to fit other things behind and between the branches! It’s easiest to begin with the sky and the background stand of trees.

This is not the kind of painting I’ve ever really spent time doing, so this was a new thing for me. I’m always trying to encourage my students to try new things–to give a project a chance even if they’d rather be painting a car or a cat (or playing a video game)!

Step 7. Next, I suggested painting the focal point–the main objects you want your audience to see. For me that’s my trees. Before I painted, I had to decide which direction the light came from. In last week’s lesson (Georgia O’Keefe lesson), I showed students how to “erase” with water colors to get a lighter shade, either by blotting with a tissue or diluting an already-painted, mostly-dry area with a watery paintbrush. They could employ one of those methods to depict one side of trees as lighter. (Short explanation: paint whole tree with a medium shade of the color you want. Use a tissue to blot away, or a watery-paintbruh to wash away, the lightest portion of your tree. Last, to get the shadowy side paint, paint it a darker color.)

My warm browns show I’m not emulating Wyeth in his color palette, and I told my students they could choose, or not choose, colors like Wyeth used.)

Step 8: Last, I added in my grass and the rock wall around the tree trunks. (I could have, maybe should have, done that before the trees.)

Step 9: Watercolor can mange to dry on top of the glue. If paint dries, it can be re-wetted with a paintbrush and wiped away to leave white snowflakes. (Or, some types of paper will allow you to peel off the dried glue, revealing pristine white orbs beneath.)

Notes: This was fun to do! So while I have little experience painting landscapes to offer any knowledgeable tips, I enjoyed it. And learning things to use to resist paint–like dried glue–is a useful lesson in itself for students! The glue that dries clear acts like a window to allow you to preserve and see through to the white paper. Also, if some of the watercolor dries on top of the glue, it can be wiped off with water, leaving the glue clear again. I’d like to do this again, with more creativity, now that I’ve given it a shot!

Any comments or thoughts to share? Please do!

On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.

Other posts:

Looking for Readers for My Novel

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Norman Rockwell lesson

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses


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Georgia O’Keefe lesson

I confess: I’ve never been a huge fan of Georgia O’Keefe. I guess I’m just not a big flower kind of art-loving gal. But I enjoyed this art lesson very much. Three years ago, this lesson was used in my Masters class (kids ages 10-13) for Fine Arts, week 15 of cycle 3 for Classical Conversations, but really, I would do this project with even apprentices (ages 6-7).

Discovering Great Artists gives you basic background info. She was a trained artist in the early 1900s, considered by many to have begun pure abstraction in American Modernism. In planning this lesson, I found more to appreciate about her work than I’d noticed previously. The calla lily below captivated me for the whimsical bend in the stem and the amazing articulation of the line wending its way up the paper, the slight shadow of the under-petal. But, trying to teach students to paint what on white–not the most practical introduction!

Georgia O’Keefe. Calla Lily Turning Away.

But she was famous for flowers. Flowers and skulls. I had some woodsy boys in class, and at my request, they did indeed bring found skulls from their property to class this day, so most boys did this project with a skull while the girls did the flowers.

The Project. My class was older, with some kids who were very serious about developing skills–so what skill could I pass on? (Note, letting them experiment with the medium and study her works is enough; no one in CC is instructed or expected to do more than that.) I’d decided I would use watercolor for this project, AND I was inspired by the range of light to dark in the flower petals below, so I aimed to show my students the wonderful quality of watercolors in that they can be “erased” to show very light areas.



dish of water


watercolor paper (important!! otherwise, the moisture will destroy the paper before they’ve accomplished anything)

tissues/paper towels for blotting

newspaper for table

paper towel for wiping brushes


Step #1. I passed out paper and allowed students to choose a skull or a fake flower which I brought to class. (I had orange and red roses). I showed them some of her paintings, including a couple skulls and the poppy and roses below:

Georgia O’Keefe. Red Poppy.

Georgia O’Keefe. Yellow Rose.

Step #2. I asked students to review, aloud, how to first approach a basic sketch of their chosen subject. (Look for the OiLs and basic geometric shapes, and measure the size of shapes, etc.) Then I showed my sample project. While I do not have a preserved sketch before painting, you can see the pencil lines in my sample below:

O-keefe painting 2 001

This sketch is not detailed; it records only the outside line of each petal’s edge. I encouraged students to stat in the middle and build  out, and to have fun with all the varieties of lines–from curves to ruffles. But don’t spend a lot of time on it.

Step #3. Observation–the key to everything. Ask students to observe the medium shade of what they are drawing. (For the skulls, we were working with a light yellow/green color or blue for the bones). Then I showed them how to take that medium shade and just quickly cover the entire shape on their page with that color.

Step #4: Observe where on the object has the lightest shade of that color. I demonstrated two ways to go back and make those sections/petals lighter. The first works only on still-wet paint: take a tissue or paper towel and blot. The tissue will soak up the moisture–and the pigment with it–leaving a lighter shade on the paper. This is kinda of fun, and some students ran with this, blotting away on all their lightest parts and never using the second method. The second method can be used even when paint is completely dry. Simply take a wet brush to areas you want lighter, and by painting on clear water, the paint in the area will be diluted. That might lighten it enough–or, you could go back to method #1 and blot some of the paint off to lighten it even more. You can even get back to nearly pure white this way.

Step #5. Observe the darkest parts of the objects. For flowers, generally the middle, for sure, and for the skulls, the depressions and eye sockets. Here, I showed students how to darken the medium shade they painted by painting a brown overtop the orange for my flower. (Depending on the color of flower, a wash of gray might be more appropriate than brown). This sample below shows a lot more work done on the darker areas than my sample above. Of the two samples, I recall that one I did before class to show students what we were doing, and the other I made as I took them step-by-step through the project. (I no longer recall which one is which).o'keefe painting 1 001 Step #6 Note that because this is water color, our techniques to erase, lighten and darken can be used again and again (unless our paper gets too soggy and starts coming apart. The key to preserving the paper is to not get it too wet, and let it dry between changes.)

I recall this being the best/easiest project of the year as far as being able to finish in the time allotted. The skulls were harder than the flowers, due to the issues in having to paint something that looks white. (The concept of painting white deserves its own lesson!) I liked giving the boys the skulls option–because how many times will we study an artist who paints animal skulls?! But it would have been better for them had I made that the entire class’ project and therefor have been able to focus on its unique needs and do it step-by-step with them.

PS One of my samples has splatter marks –I tell my class those happy accidents can look like rain or dew drops (and can put there intentionally, if wanted, by splattering water from the brush).

So, any tips or comments from those who’ve done this lessons? Please share your experiences or observations!

On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.


Other posts:

Looking for Readers for My Novel

Norman Rockwell lesson

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

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Norman Rockwell lesson

I could choose many different focus points for week 14’s Fine Arts lesson, cycle 3, on iconic illustrator Norman Rockwell for Classical Conversations, but in the end, a good lesson can really handle only one. I created this lesson three years ago for my class of 10-13-year-olds, and I chose to make the lesson about facial expressions, just one of Rockwell’s ingredients to make his magic.

Ever since at least tenth grade, I’ve loved normal Rockwell. I chose to do my English research paper on him. Did I love his  work, as many do, for the nostalgia his work generates? For its humor? For its optimism and affection for humanity evident in how he portrays people? All those things were probably all part of the mix that drew me to his work.

Discovering Great Artists, the text recommended for CC tutors, gives a tiny autobiographical snapshot of this member of “the Greatest Generation,” this underweight boy who gorged himself on bananas before he weighed in again at the recruiter’s office in an attempt to join the services during WWII. His life read much like his created scenes in illustration–pretty typical, not glamorous, but humorous.

The project: Facial Expressions in Rockwell

Step #1. This step happened before class, both to students and to parents in email: I asked students to bring in a photo (of anyone, even from a magazine) of a very definite facial expression showing an emotion. Be it from elation, anger, horror, sadness–it just had to be a strong emotion. (For those who forgot, they could use my Rockwell examples brought in.)

Step #2. I shared a bit about who Normal Rockwell was while passing around my print outs of some of his Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations. I  asked students to tell the class what story they saw being told by one picture.

Step #3. Observation. If students don’t take time to observe closely/accurately, they will be at a loss in trying to draw expressions.

I asked students, if we didn’t see the facial expressions, could that story have come across well? I ask the students,  What the ingredients to a face? First, students answer about eyes, noses, mouths, etc. I ask them to look at the mouths and eyes of the illustrations I passed out and asked them to describe them–to get them to observe that everything is big and wide open for surprise in the top one, but for the tackling boy in the football picture below, eyes and mouth are scrunched tight–you literally cannot see any lips or eyes. What about the shape of the boy’s mouth who is getting the wind knocked out of him in the tackle?

Then I asked, What else does a face need? What about wrinkles in the forehead for the apologizing boy at the dance down below? The wrinkles and bunches in the tackling boy’s face? The red in the cheeks for the boy getting tackled? The knot between the eyebrows on the girl whose foot got stepped on during the dance? Expressions are about the shape of not just the features–eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows–but also the shape of the skin between them!

Step #4. Then I ask them to look at the photo brought in from home–to look for the ingredients that make up that expression. (For simplicity, focus on one face. Encourage them they can add others from a scene at home, but for class, we’ll walk through one together.)

Step #5: I share my photo from home to my students: two of my children in one of my favorite photos ever. I point out what I notice in the photo and need in my drawing: for the baby, eyebrows high on the forehead, high above eyes, eye big and round in surprise.  On the other hand, for my son, the key to getting across his laughter was the details around the eyes as the skin crinkled and how the smile is not the wide–as in a portrait–a smile in laughter shows teeth, and takes a different shape as it stretches all the way around the gums. Perhaps this is the hardest/most key part of doing expressive faces well–applying earlier lessons I taught them at the beginning of the year–what shape is that really? (Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations and Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3) It’s all too easy for any student of drawing to think, “I have to draw a smile,” and they will draw a smile, but not the shape of the smile they are trying to capture. rockwell-expression-sketch-001-e1514837573532.jpg

Step #6: While we couldn’t trace over the shapes we find on these photos, as we traced over black-lined drawings earlier in the year, I do encourage tracing, in the air, over the shapes they see in the photo of the body they plan to draw.

Step #7: I gave students blank paper for sketching.  I encourage mapping the general lines of the whole body first, leaving details of the face til later.

I showed my sketch, pointing out how I broke the limbs down into long ovals and to get proportion and spacing right, how I measured with pencil part or finger parts (as taught in Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American)

Step #8. The face. I referred them to the drawing of the face of the Native American in week 2 as we closely observe the shapes AND sizes of not just the eyes, nose, and mouth, but even the skin between them! The size and shape of the skin portions between the features are just as important! And is that skin flat, wrinkled, pouchy or featuring lines or a different color to get across emotion? (In the case of color, we’ll deal with that later, but it’s good to note now.)

As they draw, I circualte aroudn the room, assisting as needed, encouraging, sometimes even drawing part of their subject on MY piece of scrap paper so they can see how I break down the task.

Facial expression is arguably one of the hardest drawing tasks, so I encourage my students that success in this lesson is in noticing something they hadn’t before and/or trying to faithfully record that surprising shape or size of that facial feature. Students may not get to coloring at all in class, or even finish sketching the face–but in the time constraints we have, I defined the goal as learning to observe what the key ingredients are to that facial expression, so I praise the students not for completion or perfection, but for every gain they have made in observation and recording. My son’s smile is no crescent moon–the top lip has a unique double curve. It’s truly an amazing gift if a student has an epiphany in drawing, even if the product does not look impressive . This is about learning, not polishing.

Step #10 I encourage students to finish at home if they wish and show us their progress next week! Here is where I show my colored version:

Rockwell expression color 001

I put more work into this project than any other because they are my kids, and I wanted to finish it–and I encourage my students to do the same: to work at home, especially for anything they really like or enjoy! (I look at this now and still wish I had time to work on it more! There is always room to grow in these skills. While this may look really good to some people, there are aspects of this I’d like to improve on.)

Also, I pointed out one thing–that I exaggerated my daughter’s expression by making her facial features larger. (Comparing my first sketch to my final version shows this change.) Rockwell did a fair amount of exaggerating, especially to increase the comic effect.

Note: Some of my students drew people that were very cartoony, not attempts at realism. That is okay! The focus is on the facial expressions, and if a cartoon kind of face is the place where they can begin exploring, that is fine.

How did this lesson go for you, fellow tutors? Any observations or tips? Please share!


Other posts:

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

When You’re Expecting During the Holidays (and how others can help)

Disney During the Holidays

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

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